In a move that apparently satisfied absolutely no one, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced yesterday that the moratorium on deepwater drilling was being lifted far earlier than expected. The New York Times and others report that the reaction to the end of the moratorium has already encountered widespread political cynicism and criticism from both energy companies and environmental groups.
The ban was put in place after the April blowout of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 people and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The rig was being operated by BP, which came under massive criticism for having no effective plans in place to contain an accident like the Deepwater Horizon's explosion and sinking. Millions of gallons of oil surged into the Gulf, halting and perhaps permanently damaging the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries, as well as crippling the environment, according to the Washington Post.
The lifting of the ban has deeply concerned environmentalists, who wanted the government to wait until the results of investigations into the cause and management of the spill were completed. Though the New York Times reported on Salazar's conference call with reporters yesterday, where he claimed that the U.S. has made major strides in reducing the risks of deepwater drilling, environmental groups claim it is too soon for the Interior Secretary to know that to be the case. Many environmental groups want to bring both deepwater drilling and shallow-water drilling to a halt while the investigative panels finish their work and report their findings.
The MMS has had long-standing environmental regulations when it comes to overseeing both the safety of oil rigs and disaster containment. It came to light after the BP spill, however, that although strict environmental regulations were in place, the MMS did not enforce them. President Obama and others roundly criticized the agency after they were found to have let their ties with the oil companies lead them to lax regulation. When the BP spill occurred, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, the company had been allowed to be so lackadaisical about contingency plans that they were attempting to contain the spill with strategies generated in 1969.
Salazar claimed yesterday that the set of new rules and standards for deepwater drilling the Obama administration is requiring the oil companies to adhere to in order to get their permits to drill will keep deepwater drilling safe. According to the Council of Foreign Relations report in May, oil companies claim that deepwater drilling is safe. But that same report also pointed out that the U.S. doesn't enforce its own rules, and that disaster-prevention plans were lagging decades behind our available safety measures.
The lifting of the deepwater drilling ban has deeply concerned environmentalists for that reason. Investigations into the BP spill are incomplete, as are the investigations into its environmental impact. Oil companies maintain that deepwater drilling is safe, yet it's been proved that they don't keep up with their disaster plans. Secretary Salazar wants the public to believe that the government has a handle on this issue, but it's now known that they don't enforce their own rules. The environmental impact of the BP spill on the Gulf will take decades to recover from, if it ever does. Continued deepwater drilling, then, looks like a highly risky proposition.
Peter Baker, "White House is lifting ban on deepwater drilling." NewYorkTimes.com
Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, "U.S. lifts ban on deepwater drilling." WashingtonPost.com
Jim Efstathiou Jr. and David Wethe, "Lifting of deep-water drilling ban fails to win praise for Obama." Bloomberg.com
Toni Johnson, "U.S. Deepwater Drilling's Future." CFR.org
- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
- Deepwater Horizon